An illustration of a reporter and a cameraman beside a bus stop with rom-com movie posters.

How rom-coms’ exaggerated portrayal of the field inspired a generation of journalists

Illustration: Sheridan Williamson-Fraser

The late 1990s and early 2000s produced numerous movies in which the female lead was a journalist. Two of the most prominent were 13 Going on 30, starring Jennifer Garner, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, starring Kate Hudson. Both films portrayed the main character spending more time falling in love than meeting deadlines—probably not the best recipe for success in journalism.

Nevertheless, these movies shaped a generation of young journalists, including reporter and producer Jennimai Nguyen at The News Movement, whose career stemmed from her love of writing. She remembers thinking: What career can I have that will let me write? Nguyen decided that taking journalism classes at her high schooll in Mundelein, Illinois might forge the right path. There, she learned of the inverted pyramid format and how to pitch stories. She also wrote for her school newspaper, The Mustang. After graduating, Nguyen studied journalism at Northwestern University, which eventually led to her current job where she covers entertainment and culture geared towards a “Gen-Z audience.” 

Before she tasted what the industry was really like, Nguyen says most of her knowledge about journalism came from popular culture: “The movie that made me love journalism was The Devil Wears Prada,” a story that follows the life of an assistant to the editorinchief of a fashion magazine. With Vogue’s Anna Wintour being the basis of the character, the movie depicts a more cutthroat side to journalism. Despite the movie’s focus on office politics, Nguyen felt connected with it and wanted to explore her interests. 

As she gained experience, Nguyen realized that movies about journalists—where the main character might spend their entire screen time working on one story—wasn’t the most accurate representation of reality. “I look back at those movies and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s not what it’s really like,’ but it’s funny that [these movies are] what drew me in.” 

While early 2000s “chick flicks” may have fueled Nguyen’s early career, HBO’s The Newsroom (2012–2014) inspired her in university. The show was about “doing news the right way,” portraying an idealistic version of journalism and how it can make a difference. “When I watch things like that, I’m so inspired to do this type of work,” she says.  Reality sets in, however, and Nguyen becomes frustrated when she compares it to other depictions of journalism in popular media. In How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,  journalism is shown to be a “sexy, fun job” that you can do while living the lavish New York lifestyle. “It’s a lot harder than what the movies make it look like.” 

Sex and the (Expensive) City

The huge TV hit, Sex and the City (1998–2004), another HBO show, famously follows the lives of Carrie Bradshaw, a columnist living in New York City who writes about the sex lives of those around her, which includes her friends. Bradshaw makes an estimated $1,200 a month for producing four columns (all figures U.S. dollars). She lives in Manhattan’s Upper East Side and, in Season 4, says her monthly rent is $700. Maybe it’s true that there is rent stabilization on the Upper East Side but, even so, this leaves the shopaholic socialite with $500 to spend on everything else. 

Bradshaw depicts the dream life, but Tara-Michelle Ziniuk, senior editor, politics, at Xtra Magazine, says it is wildly unrealistic. Ziniuk began her writing career in 2000, in the middle of Sex’s first run, and says it was a difficult time to make it as a journalist or an editor. On top of that, she started late in her early thirties, while most of her peers were still in their early twenties. Ziniuk has freelanced for many different publications but says it was tough to break into bigger publications, with full-time writing jobs being scarce even then. 

First Reality, Then Culture

Whether or not Rory Gilmore from Gilmore Girls (2000–2007; 2020) was a good journalist is still up for debate, but Inverse entertainment and culture reporter Dais Johnston says it was the character’s ability to make a career out of popular culture and “talk at a million miles a second” that made them interested in journalism. Johnston studied theatre at Agnes Scott college in Decatur, Georgia. Although still involved in theatre, their true passion is writing. In the beginning, they began writing recaps to episodes of the reality TV show The Bachelor, posted weekly on their blog. What started out as a hobby turned into a career after they watched James Acaster’s Repertoire and Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, two comedy specials that deeply affected Johnston. In 2018, they wrote about how the specials helped to both represent their pain and escape from it. Weeks later, Acaster contacted Johnston to say their essay made him reaffirm why he is a comedian. 

After Acaster’s compliment, Johnston began to take TV writing and journalism more seriously. “I had a three a.m. alarm where I’d wake up, watch Netflix’s new stuff, publish something, and then go to class.” Johnston got a job after they graduated in 2020, writing three pieces a day focusing on science fiction and other TV genres. Johnston says that although media such as Gilmore Girls and Jennifer Aniston’s The Bounty Hunter don’t depict what it’s like to be a journalist, there’s no harm in using media to inspire people to write. 

“There’s always value in learning how to write and communicate,” says Johnston. “Movies are all about communicating ideas.”

About the author

+ posts

Christina Apa is a fourth-year journalism student at Toronto Metropolitan University. She is passionate about women’s issues, arts and culture, and technology journalism. She is currently an editorial intern at Postcall. When she’s not writing you can find her crocheting something she’ll never wear.

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